Estate planning is one of the most common reasons for someone to require the services of an attorney. Virtually everyone has at least some assets, and those assets will need to be distributed after they pass away. Because this affects so many people, it’s helpful to know some of the top estate planning tips, such as mistakes to avoid.
Mistake #1: Not Having an Estate Plan
Hands down, the most common estate planning mistake is simply not having an estate plan. There are many reasons for this. Younger people often just don’t think about it, some people think they don’t have enough assets for it to be a concern, and others underestimate the complications that can arise when someone dies without a will. It may be an unpleasant thought, but everyone should ask themselves: what would happen to all of my property if I died today?
Mistake #2: Not Hiring an Attorney
As some of the following entries on this list will suggest, several legal requirements must be met for an estate plan to be valid. This becomes more important as the complexity of the estate increases, but even a simple will must be executed according to the law.
Mistake #3: Not Keeping Your Estate Plan Updated
As your life changes, your assets and wishes will likely change, too. It is all too easy to create an estate plan once and then forget about it. You should periodically revisit your estate plan, especially after major events such as marriage or the birth of a child.
Mistake #4: Underestimating the Potential for Conflict
It’s easy to assume that everyone you leave behind will understand your wishes and agree on what those wishes are, but that is not always the case. Emotions often run high after death, and you will not be there to clarify things. A clear estate plan can minimize conflict.
Mistake #5: Not Creating a Health Care Directive
Tragedies and accidents can happen in an instant. If an event such as a car crash leaves you incapacitated, your family will have to make important and difficult decisions about your medical care. Creating a health care directive in advance that lays out your specific instructions for various circumstances will make sure your wishes are met and make things easier for your family.
Mistake #6: Not Choosing an Executor for Your Estate
It will fall to someone to take care of all the work of administering your estate. If you have someone specific in mind, be sure to identify them. Otherwise, the probate court will appoint an executor for you.
Mistake #7: Missing Assets
All of your assets must be dealt with in one way or another. If your will only lists a series of specific gifts, the remainder of your estate will be distributed according to the state’s laws of intestacy (the rules that dictate what happens when someone dies without a will). On the other end, if your will only speaks in generalities, you might be overlooking specific property you want to be distributed in a more specific way.
Mistake #8: Digital or Electronic Wills
In most states, including California, electronic or digital wills are currently not accepted as valid. A will must be printed out, signed, and stored as a hard copy. Even if it complies with every other legal requirement, a document in your computer will likely be rejected by a probate court.
Mistake #9: Witness Signatures
In California, a will must be signed by two witnesses, preferably when you signed the document yourself. This helps prevent fraud. The witnesses should not be estate beneficiaries, either. If they are, the probate court can presume the will was created under duress and may disregard portions of it.
Mistake #10: Not Keeping the Will in a Place Where It Will Be Found
A will is no good if nobody can find it after you pass away. If you keep it in your home or office, keep it in a place where it will be easily discovered. The best option, however, is to keep your will on file with your attorney.
For More Estate Planning Tips
One of the best estate planning tips is to meet with an attorney. It may be tempting to go it alone, but many things can go wrong. The price of consulting an expert is quite modest compared to the potential problems created by DIY estate planning. Contact our office today to schedule a meeting.